We recently traveled to Paris for the first time. Ahead of our trip, my husband and I did a bit of research to prepare. Here are 7 tips that we found helpful when visiting Paris.
Learn Basic French Phrases
It’s always a plus when you can speak the language of a place you are visiting. Paris is no different although not being fluent in French won’t be a huge hindrance either from our experience. Many people there do speak English. On occasion before we even asked “parlez-vous français?” we would be spoken to in English.
We did want to know a few basics though and spent time in the months leading up to our trip studying. We took two completely different approaches based on our own personal learning preferences.
My husband’s tool of choice was listening to Podcasts. Particularly French Made Easy. He would download and listen during a midworkday walk. A chance to step away from the office, stretch his legs, and stimulate his brain. He definitely mastered numbers much better than I did using this method.
I also listened to some Podcasts – mixing it up between French Made Easy, Coffee Break French, and Duolingo. I spent time daily using the Duolingo app for 3 months leading up to our trip. I’m not convinced the app helped me speak, but I did find I could read signs and menus much better. In that respect, I do think it was beneficial.
Using Your Smartphone
Originally I had planned to just flip the cellular off on my iPhone and use WiFi wherever we could. My husband smartly considered we might need our phones for maps, museum tickets, reviewing restaurant options, etc. This led us to purchasing eSIM cards for our trip.
You can buy a physical SIM card if you prefer, but newer phones can use eSIM and it’s much easier. Simply purchase. Then follow the instructions from the company.
We installed ours a few days before our trip. Left the French eSIM cards turned off. Then turned them on once we were in Paris. It was nice to be able to use our phones as needed without constantly checking for free WiFi wherever we went.
Many carriers offer international plans. We did consider this, but it was $10 per day and, from what I read, often has very slow data speeds. The eSIM cards were purchased were $20 each and included 12gb data. We didn’t even use 2gb each during our week so it was plenty and saved us money ($40 total versus $140 from our home provider).
Useful Phone Apps
Speaking of smart phones, you will want to research and download useful phone apps before leaving home. One of the main apps we used which most phones already have installed – Google Maps. It was our go to for getting around the city whether we were walking, using the Metro, or a combination.
Other apps we found helpful:
- Google Translate – if a sign or menu was in French, we could take a photo and the app would translate it for us to English.
- WhatsApp – we used for sending text messages and photos to our kids and family back in the US.
- Welcome Pickups – arrival transportation. See our next tip for details.
- Bonjour RATP – the official app for the public transit system in Paris. Two main reasons to use this app are to plan your route (bus, metro, RER, combination); and to check your Navigo Easy pass for tickets remaining as well as purchase additional tickets if needed (Android users can also set up their phone as a ticket).
- Disneyland Paris – if you are going to visit the Disney parks while in Paris, this is app is a must. Similar to it’s US counterparts, it includes park maps with ride wait times, restaurant menus (mobile ordering for some), daily hours and events, etc.
Prearrange Airport Arrival Pickup
There are numerous options when you arrive at CDG airport to get you to where you are staying in Paris. We debated many of them from taxis to taking the RER and Metro. While the latter would have been the least expensive, I knew I didn’t want to be navigating through a public transit system in a foreign country after a red eye flight. One of the best things we did pretrip was arrange for airport pickup.
We used Welcome Pickups. It was only a little bit more than getting a taxi, and so worth it. I was able to enter our hotel address when booking so that removed any confusion or language barrier about where we needed to go. Before our arrival, the company sent an email confirming our trip, informing us of our driver name and his contact information. Details on the vehicle (type, license plate) and photo of the driver were also included.
My one goof? I had read that Customs and Border Patrol could take up to 2 hours so I pushed our pickup time back a bit just in case. Reality was that we breezed through and were at the airport terminal exit in no time. Thankfully, I had noted our flight details when booking. Our driver monitored our flight and reached out to me via WhatsApp to see if we would prefer he come earlier. “Oui s’il vous plaît! Merci beaucoup!”
After a long night, it was nice to do very little but sit back and relax. He got us safely to our hotel and pointed out several landmarks along the way. I was very pleased and would absolutely book again.
Don’t Over Plan Days
You will want to prebook tickets/reservations for popular spots that you want to visit. We made sure to secure tickets for the Louvre, Opera House, and Eiffel Tower well before we left home. We should have added the Orsay Museum to that list, but thankfully, were still able to secure guided tour tickets after arriving.
That said, don’t fill up every single day of your itinerary with scheduled activities. Leave open time. First, you don’t want to rush any of these visits. Maybe you’ll want to linger longer in a museum. Or maybe you’ll want to find a spot to sit, enjoy a coffee, and just people watch for a bit. Giving your feet a rest.
Another perk of leaving open time – the option for a little spontaneity. While we had researched places to see and even mapped out spots on Google before leaving, we found ourselves unsure of what direction to head next after visiting Île de la Cité. A friend had sent me a suggestion of a path to take to explore Marais district. We decided to give it a shot and so glad we did! It led us through some unique passages to the beautiful Place des Vosges and a delicious spot for lunch. This was something we would not have otherwise done and were glad we had open time to make a spur of the moment decision.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
One important tip when visiting Paris – wear shoes that are comfortable. If you are planning to visit museums, monuments, shop, or just enjoy the various neighborhoods, you will walk miles daily. We found we covered anywhere from 5 to 9 miles – even on days that we utilized the metro.
There is also a good bit of standing. Whatever footwear you pack, be sure a comfortable pair that will keep your feet happy is included.
One of the things we came across frequently when planning our trip was to be cautious of pickpockets. I’m not sure they are more rampant in Paris than any other large city, but it is wise to be aware and be careful when traveling.
We didn’t personally have any issues during or week, but another traveler had a handbag stolen at CDG airport with passports inside. Literally just after arriving in Paris. A horrible start to any trip.
On that note, here is what we did and believe helped us during the week:
- Keep your belongings in clear view. For us this meant using the airport tram or Metro/RER with luggage, we had our bags in front of us. When touring, I carried a crossbody bag in front of me – never on my back.
- Use a travel wallet. Rather than carry his normal wallet in his back pocket like at home, my husband purchased a small card size wallet that would hold a few basics and fit in his front pocket.
- Pay using your phone or Apple Watch whenever possible. This keeps your wallet and credit cards out of sight for possible thieves watching you.
- Be aware of surroundings. You can’t always avoid crowded spaces, but being alert and (if traveling with others) helping to watch out for one another can be the best way to avoid situations that might result in a pickpocket taking advantage.
- Avoid petitions. A couple of times we were approached by young adults (late teens or early 20s?) asking if we spoke English and would sign their petition. This is a known distraction so while you are signing, an accomplice can grab your wallet, bag, whatever. We just firmly said “no” while shaking our head and moved away.
Have Fun and Enjoy
The final tip and an important one while visiting Paris – have fun and enjoy yourself while visiting! We found Paris to be a beautiful, friendly, and welcoming city.